It’s hard to believe that the Tales series has been going for over 20 years. Over the course of sixteen games in the main series, several spin-offs and the occasional sequel, it has been a mainstay of the RPG genre in Japan since Tales of Phantasia graced the SNES back in 1995 (even though most in the West wouldn’t see it until 2006, when it was ported to the GBA). In fact, the first game we got here in Blighty was Tales of Symphonia for the Gamecube in 2004.
At a recent event held in the dungeons of Namco’s Funscape arcade in London, (I say dungeon, but it was actually rather pleasant), the assembled press got a first look at the latest game in the series; Tales of Berseria (which gets the gold medal for “difficult to pronounce made-up word), presented by its producer Yasuhiro Fukaya.
Pitched as a tale of “Emotion vs. Reason”, Tales of Berseria is the first game in the series to have a female protagonist, the hot-headed and impetuous Velvet and takes players back to the world of Glenwood, (which I’m assuming is the same place as Zestiria). In the future (though we weren’t told how long had passed, so I guess the year is 20XX), Berseria tells the tale of a world in turmoil, three years after a plague known as the Demonblight swept across the land, turning humans into ravenous monsters.
Velvet was one of the unfortunate humans afflicted by the plague, which thankfully didn’t turn her completely into a beast, instead infecting only her left arm turning it into a bloody great claw. Unsurprisingly it’s her primary weapon in the game.
Betrayed by a person she trusted on the night when the Scarlet Moon rose, (which I’m guessing is the night she was infected), Velvet sets out on a revenge mission to settle a score with ‘him who deprived her of everything.’
Not a lot was said about the game’s main antagonist, but we do know that they are the head of a group known as the Abbey who have risen to power as the protectors of humanity since the Demonblight began. It probably wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to think they may be in cahoots with whoever started the plague, but then again, it would be a nice change to play the villain in a JRPG. Still, we’re wandering into Speculationville here.
Speaking of the Abbey, it was revealed for the first time that Eleanor Hume (a member of the organisation’s military arm known as the Exorcists), and who has only been seen as an enemy NPC up until this point, will in fact become a member of Velvet’s party. Being a typical foil, she is basically everything that Velvet isn’t. While Velvet is brash and functions on her own brand of moral relativism that lets her see the world in shades of grey to get the job done, Eleanor is uptight, and sees the world in black and white, obsessed with always doing the ‘right thing’. She’s a stickler for the rules, her actions driven by logic rather than instinct. It’s not hard to see a few buddy cop situations arising between the two.
Other members of Velvet’s band of misfits include Magliou, an easy-going and reckless witch with a fondness for playing pranks on the other members of the party and Eizen- the skipper of the Van Elita, and head of a band of pirates looking for their missing Captain, Van Aifread. Eizen is a Malak (a spiritual being with the power to control nature) nicknamed ‘The Reaper’. He follows his own creed and does whatever he wants. However, he is loyal to his crew and captain and completely fearless in combat. He also bears a striking resemblance to Itchigo from the anime series Bleach.
The evidence suggest that this is intentional, as Eizen is the name of the main antagonist in the show, and the group of spectral warriors it follows are called Soul Reapers. The actor voicing Eisen in the Japanese version of the game has previously voiced Itchigo. If they don’t get Johnny Yong Bosh (Itichigo in the English language version of Bleach) to play Eizen in the English version of Berseria, I’ll be sorely disappointed. Purists will be happy to know that the game will feature both English and original Japanese dub, so they’ll be able to fully appreciate this unofficial cameo.
There’s also Rokuru Rangetsu, a samurai who lives by his own rules and was also infected by the Demonblight. He has inherited the coveted Tales of title of: That one badass -looking party member with a massive sword, though apparently he doesn’t like to use it.
Finally we were shown Laphicet, a young boy (who is also a Malak) that Velvet rescues from slavery early in the game. As it progresses, we see him evolve from an innocent boy with no mind or will of his own into a capable young man as he joins Velvet and the crew aboard the Van Elita.
It’s no surprise at all that Tales of Berseria looks absolutely lovely. It uses the same engine as Zestiria, but with the foliage turned up to max. This new incarnation of Greenwall has many varied and beautiful environments, such as vast open fields with big blue skies and mountains in the distance, and we also got a brief glimpse of the Imperial city that the Exorcists hail from, a sprawling Gothic cityscape not too dissimilar to Ladylake from Tales of Zestiria.
The world of Berseria will also feature a full day and night cycle as well as variable weather. We were shown areas in which it was raining, and a mountain side where it snowed. If this will have any effect on the gameplay aside from looking cool, it wasn’t yet discussed.
Finally, we come to the most important part of all. The battle system.
As is customary, Berseria will have its own version of the Linear Motion battle System, and I have to say it looks like it could be a lot of fun. The Enhanced LMBS will allow players to create their own combo strings in a manner reminiscent of DONTNOD’s Remember Me, but somewhat more complex. You’ll be able to create your own custom four-hit combos, with attacks assigned to each of the pad’s face buttons. This will allow for you to customise the way that each character attacks to fit your own particular playstyle. The potential is there for serious amounts of strategizing if you put the time in.
Another major addition to Berseria’s combat is the Soul Gauge system which replaces Zestiria’s Chain Capacity system. Representing each character’s mana or mental state, every Arte you perform will cost a certain number of soul points (SP). Once the gauge is diminished, you will still be able to perform Artes, but they will be debuffed in some way. The Gauge is replenished over time, but soul points can also be stolen from enemies by knocking them out, stunning or inflicting status ailments, or by dodging their attacks with backstep. You can also acquire more Soul Points via certain items or by occasionally picking them up from the environment or from a downed ally. However, you can also lose Soul points by being stunned or infected with status ailments.
The other addition to the battle system we were told about was Break Soul. This can be activated once you have three soul points, and can be used to extend the length of your combos, essentially doubling them. Activating break soul has the added effect of healing a character while it is active, and allows you to break an enemy’s guard. Each character’s Break Soul abilities are different, with more unlocking as they levels up. For example, Laphicet’s reduces damage to the party by half while it is active and then heals everyone when it ends, while Magilou’s can stop enemies from casting spells before countering with a powerful spell of her own.
You’ll also be able to switch between a pair of characters on the fly using the game’s switch blast system. This allows for more strategic option in combat, and is a good way to turn the tides of battle as the new character that enters the fray does so with an additional soul point. It gives you the option of saving characters that are on the ropes and countering while you do so.
From what was shown of the game’s battles, it looks like all of these systems weave together to create something that looks like a curious blend of hack n’ slash, coupled with the same strategic elements you would find in other Tales games, but with a greater focus on action and making combat feel more fluid and instantaneous. Battles also have no loading screen or separate arenas, and simply take place on the world map. Instead of the customary flash screen, a small area is fenced off with characters only ably to perform actions within that designated zone.
On the whole, it would be interesting to see more of Tales of Beseria, and actually get our hands on it to test out the new combat system in place. The whole Emotion vs. Reason storyline is going to need to be handled really carefully, in my opinion. The fact that it’s the series’ first female protagonist is great, however, the fact that they’ve apparently made her a slave to her emotions may seem a little dicey when taken out of context. We’ll have to wait and see how the story pans out.
Still, for now, I’m happy to give the game the benefit of the doubt, as there’s still about a year until Tales of Berseria is released on PC and PS4 in early 2017.